What is jaw bone infection and how to cure it?

Medically reviewed by Dr. Ola Tarabzuni

Key Takeaways

  • Jaw infections, although rare, demand immediate medical attention. If you experience intense jaw pain, or swelling, or suspect a dental abscess, timely treatment can prevent the infection from spreading.
  • Look out for symptoms such as jaw pain, tooth sensitivity, and facial swelling, as they may indicate a jaw infection. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for effective management.
  • The treatment for jaw infections depends on the severity of the condition. It can involve antibiotics, surgery, or even a combination of both. A healthcare professional can help you determine the most suitable course of action for your specific case.

Overview

Osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone, is a rare but serious condition that can affect the temporomandibular joint, potentially causing severe jaw pain. Individuals experiencing discomfort in their jaw may wonder if an underlying jaw infection is the cause. While such infections are uncommon, they demand immediate medical attention. Typically, these infections occur when harmful microbes infiltrate the jawbone through abscessed teeth, gum lesions, or traumatic injuries. Even dental restorations, if not properly managed, can lead to bone infection in the jaw. In this blog, we’ll explore jaw infection symptoms, the various types, and the available treatments. Keep reading to know more about this critical issue for your dental health and identify the symptoms of bacterial infection in the jaw.

What is jaw bone infection?

Typically, osteomyelitis is an infection or inflammation that occurs in the bone marrow or bone itself. While it most commonly affects the bones of the spine, pelvis, and extremities, the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is rarely impacted by this condition. However, when it does occur in the jaw, it can lead to significant problems affecting the bones of the face and jaw.

The primary cause of this infection is usually the introduction of bacteria into the body, often due to inadequate oral hygiene or following oral surgical procedures, such as a root canal treatment. People with conditions that affect the immune system, like diabetes, or those with a history of alcoholism, are at a higher risk of developing osteomyelitis. Additionally, jaw injuries, dental abscesses, and certain surgical treatments performed before oral surgery can elevate the risk.

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What are the symptoms of osteomyelitis of the jaw?

During the acute phase, you’ll experience intense jaw pain and sinus pressure unaffected by jaw movement. In cases of chronic osteomyelitis, you may encounter jaw and neck stiffness, making eating and speaking challenging. Signs and symptoms of jaw osteomyelitis encompass

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Jaw pain
  • Tooth loss
  • Jaw stiffness
  • Facial swelling
  • Sinus drainage
  • Neck and head pain
  • Tenderness when touched
  • Yellowish fluid or pus discharge

If you suspect a dental abscess, seek immediate dental treatment. Your doctor will likely attempt to drain the infection and may prescribe antibiotics. In severe cases, tooth extraction may become necessary to prevent disease spread.

How do you test for jaw bone infection?

To diagnose jaw bone infection, your doctor will conduct a physical examination, checking for tenderness, swelling, or warmth around the affected bone along with some of the including:

  1. Blood tests: Elevated levels of white blood cells and other factors in your blood may indicate that your body is actively fighting an infection. If the infection originates in the blood, these tests can help identify the responsible germs. While blood tests alone cannot definitively confirm or rule out osteomyelitis, they provide important clues for further diagnostic steps.
  1. Imaging tests: X-rays can reveal bone damage, although such damage may not be visible until osteomyelitis has been present for several weeks. For more recent cases or detailed images, advanced imaging techniques may be employed, such as:
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Produces highly detailed images of bones and the surrounding soft tissues using radio waves and a strong magnetic field.
  • Computerized tomography (CT): Combines X-ray images from multiple angles to create cross-sectional views of internal structures. CT scans are typically used when an MRI is not feasible.

Osteomyelitis is often misdiagnosed due to its symptoms resembling those of other jaw, skull, or face conditions. If osteomyelitis is confirmed as the source of your pain, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.

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How do you get rid of a jawbone infection?

Jaw bone infection can be treated as per the severity of the condition with medications or even surgical intervention for chronic conditions. Here are different treatment options for different stages of the jaw bone infection:

  1. Acute Osteomyelitis

This type typically occurs within two weeks after a traumatic event, initial infection, or the onset of an underlying condition. It can be quite severe and even life-threatening. Treatment often involves a four-to-six-week course of antibiotics for adults like penicillinase-resistant synthetic penicillin and a third-generation cephalosporin. Some patients may require hospitalization, while others can receive outpatient injections or self-administer them at home if capable. If the cause is methicillin-resistant S aureus (MRSA), your doctor may prescribe vancomycin or clindamycin and a third-generation cephalosporin.

  1. Sub-Acute Osteomyelitis

In this form, infection arises within one to two months following trauma, initial infection, or the onset of an underlying condition. Treatment varies depending on the severity and whether new bone damage has occurred. If there’s no bone damage, the treatment resembles acute osteomyelitis. However, if damage is present, the approach is more akin to chronic osteomyelitis. The first line of treatment for sub-acute osteomyelitis is either intravenous clindamycin or oral amoxicillin-clavulanate medicine. 

  1. Chronic Osteomyelitis

Chronic osteomyelitis typically occurs around two months after the initial injury, infection, or the start of an underlying disease. Treatment often involves both surgery and prolonged antibiotic therapy to address bone damage. Antibiotics may need to be administered for an extended period, potentially spanning years, to control the infection like nafcillin and ciprofloxacin. In certain cases, particularly persistent infections may necessitate the removal of all or parts of the affected bone.

Can antibiotics cure a jawbone infection?

Jawbone infection can be cured with antibiotics in case of bacterial infection. Amoxicillin is a highly effective medication for addressing jaw infections. It belongs to the Penicillin family of antibiotics and is frequently the initial choice for treating such conditions. However, in cases where a patient exhibits an allergic reaction to Amoxicillin, suitable alternative medications are available, including Cephalexin and Clindamycin.

Treating osteomyelitis in the jaws is a complex process, particularly due to the presence of teeth and constant exposure to the oral environment. Antibiotic therapy must often be extended over several weeks or even months to ensure effectiveness. Clindamycin and moxifloxacin, known for their excellent bioavailability in bone tissue, are viable options recommended in such cases. Your healthcare provider will assess your specific condition and medical history to determine the most appropriate course of treatment.

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What does a jawbone infection feel like?

If you suspect a jaw infection, there are several symptoms to watch out for, including

  • Pain and swelling in the jaw, neck, or face
  • Tender and swollen gum tissue
  • Tooth sensitivity to hot, cold, and sugary foods
  • Pain originating from a jaw infection can radiate into the neck, ears, head, and even the eyes

Jaw traumas typically result from accidents or injuries, with sports-related incidents often being a common cause. Patients with jaw deformities will undergo surgical and orthodontic treatments to restore both the function and appearance of their jaws.

Dental cavities left untreated can lead to dental abscesses and jaw bone infections. These infections occur due to bacterial growth, and when left untreated, they can progress into the jawbone, potentially causing severe and lasting health issues. In evaluating a jawbone infection, dentists often employ imaging and blood work to assess its severity.

Patients experiencing a fever or facial swelling and unable to reach their dentist should seek immediate medical attention in an emergency room. If you experience difficulty breathing or swallowing, you should visit the emergency room, as these symptoms can indicate the infection has spread to other areas of the body, affecting surrounding tissues, the deeper jaw, and other body parts.

It’s crucial to note that a tooth abscess will not resolve independently without treatment. While a ruptured abscess may temporarily relieve pain, treatment remains essential. Untreated abscesses can lead to the spread of infection to the neck, head, jaw, and other areas. In rare cases, patients may develop sepsis, a life-threatening condition impacting the organs.

Consult a doctor

In some cases, infections can directly affect the temporomandibular joint in your jaw, leading to a condition known as osteomyelitis. Symptoms of osteomyelitis include jaw and facial pain, facial swelling, and fever. Antibiotics are typically prescribed to resolve the infection; however, delaying treatment can result in partial jawbone deterioration. When dealing with an abscess, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional immediately. Your dentist will aim to drain the abscess and will likely recommend a course of antibiotics.

Will a jaw infection go away on its own?

A jaw infection doesn’t go away independently but can spread to other body parts if not treated properly. Therefore, it is advised to get treatment to relieve pain and inflammation. See a doctor for prescription medications.

How severe is dental bone infection?

Dental bone infections can lead to chronic infection and even loss of jaw bone and, eventually tooth loss. If the cause is bacterial infection, antibiotics can help stop the spread of infection and pain.

How fast does a jaw infection spread?

A jaw infection can spread in a few weeks to months to the nearby tissues and can cause severe chronic diseases and autoimmune diseases if not treated timely. Therefore, it is better to consult a doctor for the immediate treatment of jaw bone infection.

How long does jaw bone infection take to heal?

The jaw bone infection may take 4-6 weeks with antibiotics for complete recovery. However, in case of severe infection, your doctor may prescribe the medicine for a whole year. In acute infection, you may start feeling better in 3-5 days.

Your Doctors Online uses high-quality and trustworthy sources to ensure content accuracy and reliability. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and medical associations to provide up-to-date and evidence-based information to the users.

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